Jackdaws

On the first day of 30DaysWild, as I left the orchard after watching and listening to the wind, my attention was arrested by the jackdaws on the chimney stacks on nearby houses. They must have their nests up there now, with fledglings being fed.

They sat on the chimneys; they sat on the television aerials; they held long conversations with each other. They picked up and flew around  in circles, calling, then landed again on the chimneys or on the roof ridge.

I am not quite sure why, but the sight of them filled me with immediate joy.

At that moment, as I stood on the threshold, about to leave but with my attention captured, I felt I was in some manner talking to them. I was not so much looking at them, as I was witnessing, open to them. I wanted to know, not what they are, but who they are. I was held in the wonder of a sense of encounter.

****

Over the next day I hold the jackdaws in mind. I intend to go back to them for the second of the 30DaysWild, but I only find time in the middle of my day when it is hot and the birds have gone off somewhere else. On the third day, I get ready with my camera and long lens, binoculars, notebook, audio recorder and make myself comfortable in a garden seat. I am ready for them.

Through the morning, I watch. Four chimney stacks, each seems to be the home of a pair. They come, they go. When they arrive they often lean down inside the pot, as if feeding their young. Sometimes they fly off again immediately, dropping down from the rooftop to gain speed and moving away purposefully. Other times they just sit around for a while. On occasion, they jump up in the air, flutter about, and land again. They quite often visit each others pots, sometimes amicably, sometimes with a bit of a squabble.

Four magpies fly past in formation. They are much more fluttery on their wings, with their long tails streaming behind them. One lands on the roof and is quickly seen off by the resident jackdaw.

I listen to the jackdaws’ call. It features variations around ‘tchack’: sometimes a single, percussive call, sometimes in a series: ‘tchack-a-tchack-a-tchack-a-tchack’. The calls have a range of subtleties that I cannot grasp, but I have the impression of some kind of a conversation going on.

After a while they all leave their pots and join a larger flock flying in big circles high in the sky. There may also be a few crows, but I can hear by their calling, most are jackdaws. After a while, they all land back on their chimney stacks.

I spend maybe three hours sitting, watching, listening and making notes. Several times I ask myself what I trying to find out and what I am learning. It is fun to watch them, but I feel something is missing. I am a bit disappointed. Late in the morning, I pack up my equipment, not sure what I have learned.

****

Back at my desk, preparing to write, I go over all my notes and audio recordings. I find the notes of my first encounter and recall the sense of joy that came with it. At that moment, unexpected, almost halfway out of the gate, I had experienced meeting those birds as heart-to-heart, subject-to-subject. I knew them as beings in the world in their own right, who I was privileged to meet, albeit at some distance.

On the second day, when I was all prepared with equipment of observe them, that special feeling was gone. My eagerness to understand, to see close up, to get a good photograph, created a more distanced experience that overlaid my original joy. I lost the presence of the birds themselves, and my watching was empty.